Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VIII No. 2 April 1999

Baja Salt Plant Issue Heats Up

by Kate O'Connell, CSI Board

Each year, thousands of Eastern Pacific gray whales migrate south along the western coast of North America towards their breeding grounds in the sheltered lagoons of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. This year, in particular, these gray whales were the focus of much attention. Not only are these the whales targeted by the Makah tribe of Washington State, but this year the whales were dying in numbers large enough to generate a firestorm of press and political activity.

Throughout the month of March, reports of gray whale carcasses on the beaches of Baja, Sinaloa and Sonora were to be found in Mexican and international press. By the end of the month, reports of up to as many as 52 whales (not all clearly identified as grays) had been cited by the Mexican press. While scientists claim that a certain level of gray whale mortality is to be expected, the fact that these gray whales are at the center of a controversial plan by the Japanese multinational Mitsubishi and the Exportadora de Sal, SA (ESSA) Company to build a salt plant in the San Ignacio lagoon (see Whales Alive! October 1998) - a major area of concentration for the breeding grays - caused the press and public to take notice.

Last December, a salt plant owned by ESSA and operating in yet another gray whale lagoon in Ojo de Liebre, experienced a large spillage of brine and chemicals into the waters of this fragile ecosystem. 94 sea turtles were found dead. While ESSA denied responsibility, a Scientific Committee convened by the Mexican government, and headed by PROFEPA, to study the deaths released their findings in the last week of March. The Committee stated clearly that ESSA was responsible for the deaths due to the spill-out of the brine and chemicals.

In the next few months, the Mexican government will need to address this issue and render a final decision on whether ESSA and Mitsubishi can indeed build their salt processing plant. Mexican NGOs, led by Grupo de los Cien and Greenpeace, have been joined by their international colleagues - including CSI - in condemning the construction of yet another salt plant in San Ignacio.

It is urgent that people contact the Mexican embassies in their countries and register a protest, and asking that the government not issue a permit to Mitsubishi and ESSA to construct the plant in San Ignacio. In addition, please write to the President of Mitsubishi Corporation, and ask that they rescind their proposal:

Mr. Hiroaki Yano
President Mitsubishi International
520 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10022

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